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Storm Leaves Seats Open For Pre-k

 Getting an early start on education is vitally important; but getting the benefits associated with that early start for free? Now that’s something that will make parents sit up and take notice.


The Westbury School District has been offering a comprehensive pre-kindergarten program at Dryden Street School for quite some time, and it draws a crowd every year when the application period comes around—so much so, in fact, that the district has taken to holding an annual lottery to determine which lucky children will receive the limited and much-coveted classroom slots.


According to Dryden Street Assistant Principal Juanita Sherwood, registration coordinator of this year’s lottery, the pre-k program is completely free to any legitimate Westbury resident. All costs are covered by federal grant funds distributed by New York State.


“This is one of the oldest pre-k programs on Long Island,” she said. “We had a full-day program for several years, but unfortunately, as of last year we had to go back to a half-day for monetary reasons.”


This marks the first year that the district will be outsourcing the day-to-day running of the program to Saint Joseph’s College.


“We are doing the registration, but they are going to actually run the program,” she said. “The program remains in-district at Dryden Street School but people from Saint Joseph’s College will be running it as opposed to Westbury teachers.” 


According to Sherwood, this year Westbury’s pre-k program can accommodate approximately 220 children. However, she said that the district is also collaborating with other organizations, such as Head Start, to find room for additional kids. She pointed out the obvious advantages for the children. 


 “Educating a child as early as possible gives them the greatest possibility for success. Many of our children in this community do not have the experiences that others in more affluent districts have,” Sherwood said. “We provide a lot of wonderful experiences and we will certainly teach them the basics so that they will have a strong foundation in early literacy and math, as well as art, music, and science. This way they can really compete and enjoy school, while socializing in a nice, friendly setting.”


 The pre-k lottery is only open to verified Westbury residents and is held annually at the high school. This year the looming threat of inclement weather resulted in good news for the 160 or so residents who chose to trek to the lottery regardless.


 “The frigid temperatures kept a lot of people back, because we typically have to pull numbers, but because we did not fulfill the number of seats that we have available at this time, everybody is in,” Sherwood said. “Everyone here tonight is eligible to attend the pre-k program. As for the remaining slots in the program, they will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis.”


 Sherwood noted that because the program is free, the district has strict guidelines for establishing proof of Westbury residency. Out-of-district residents attempting to sneak into the program in the past forced Westbury to tighten the reins, so to speak.


 “People here tonight must fill out an application and they must prove residency,” Sherwood said. “We give them a packet that explains exactly what they need and all the documentation that is necessary—their child’s birth certificate, a passport, a marriage certificate, mortgage, rental agreement. You need to fulfill our requirements so that we know that not only are you a legitimate resident, but that the child is yours and not one you’re trying to sneak for someone else, or a kidnapped child.”


 Among the parents signing up that evening was Noelia Pereyra, her partner Jose, and their daughter Adrinia, fast asleep in their arms.


“The pre-k is very important, because this is my first time as a mother, so everything is a new experience for me,” she said. “To get this free pre-k for my daughter is a great opportunity for her.”


Cynthia Hernandez was overjoyed that the low turnout ensured that her daughter Mariella would be heading off to pre-k come September.


 “I think having this pre-k program is so important,” Hernandez said. “The earlier that you start a child’s education, the better it is for them. And it’s wonderful news that everyone here tonight is getting in.”


Yarely Majera was pleased that she had quickly and easily started the process that will eventually lead to her daughter Kayla getting an early foothold in learning. 


“It’s better to start education early because kids will learn better in the long run. The earlier, the better,” she said. “I didn’t even know they were doing a lottery tonight to determine who can get into the program, but luckily there’s a storm coming and some people obviously elected to stay home. So much the better for me and my daughter.”